Mary's last encounter with the Church had been on a Wednesday evening. She had come to "just sit in the chapel" for a few minutes, but someone told her that the doors were being locked and that she would have to leave. Mary (her name has been changed to protect her privacy) had not returned to Church since.
And that was the situation when Jane Polowitzer, a member of the Manchester (Conn.) Ward, was assigned to be Mary's visiting teacher. Sister Polowitzer immediately called Mary on the telephone."I wanted to feel her spirit and get to know her," explained Sister Polowitzer, who was greeted by a woman who didn't want any contact with visiting teachers. After repeated requests for a visit, Mary reiterated her love for the gospel, but remained firm about no visitors. She did, however, consent to letting Sister Polowitzer write letters to her.
That was in 1984.
For five years, Sister Polowitzer wrote to Mary regularly. The letters contained descriptions of Relief Society meetings and lessons and sacrament meeting presentations, as well as some of Sister Polowitzer's spiritual experiences and her testimony. "I wrote to her as if we had really known each other," she said.
Once, Sister Polowitzer left a gift-wrapped Relief Society manual on Mary's doorstep. And she asked missionary couples to visit Mary and her non-member husband. As the years went by and the names on Sister Polowitzer's visiting teaching list changed, Mary's name remained. And Sister Polowitzer continued to write, even though, as she said, "I never knew if Mary ever really got any of my letters or if she even read them."
Finally Sister Polowitzer, feeling that she had failed as a visiting teacher, asked that Mary be assigned to someone else who might be more effective. "I had failed to reach Mary and had lost my desire to keep trying," she remembered thinking.
However, the same day she made that request, a missionary couple reported to Sister Polowitzer that they had finally been able to visit Mary. And what a visit it had been.
One of the first things Mary had done was bring out the letters she had been receiving through the years. She told the missionaries that those letters were her treasures, that she loved receiving them and often reread them several times.
Of course, Sister Polowitzer quickly changed her request to have Mary's name removed from her list. "With a spark of response from Mary, I desired to keep going and to try again," she noted.
Thus far, Sister Polowitzer has only met Mary once. The missionary couple brought Mary and her husband to a ward open house and the tears flowed freely, related Sister Polowitzer. "Mary cradled my face in her hands and said, `You are my angel and my salvation.'"